Effects of Alcohol on the Family

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Alcohol Dependence, also known as alcoholism, is a very widespread disabling addictive disorder, affecting 4% of Canadians. Alcoholism may start innocuously, due to the acceptability of social drinking, but over time, can lead to serious health problems, including brain, kidney and liver damage. Although alcoholics seem to be doing the most damage to themselves, they are hurting their families even more. Lesser-known, but just as serious victims of alcohol abuse are the alcoholics’ children. The negative effects start in the womb, where drinking during pregnancy often causes Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, and other defects. After the baby is born, the risks continue, as the children in alcoholic families tend to lack a stable family environment and have a fairly high rate of abuse. These factors, as well as genetic predisposition, are strong precedents to the child developing alcohol abuse problems themselves. These children also tend to show more symptoms of anxiety and depression, and have lower self esteem than children from nonalcoholic families. These factors may also contribute to the likelihood of the child becoming an alcoholic.

When a few drinks has turned into a few too many, a few too many times, some may start to suspect alcoholism. This is often how alcohol abuse starts, with acceptable social drinking increasing to the point where the drinker can no longer control their desire and compulsion to drink. Drinking too much alcohol over a long period changes the chemical balance in the brain linked to pleasure, causing the body to crave alcohol. Symptoms of alcoholism are frequent intoxication; drinking and continuing to drink alcohol in appropriate places and times; and often, denial of the problem. Due to the legality and availability of alcohol, it can be very difficult to quit or help another quit drinking, which can result in long-term alcohol abuse. When one has been abusing alcohol for long periods of time, it can cause a number of mental and physical problems, including, but not limited to liver damage, kidney damage, heart disease, alcoholic dementia, brain damage, and a myriad of psychological problems. Alcoholism also comes with a variety of comorbid disorders, most commonly major depressive disorder, and anxiety related disorders (Petrakis, 86). The order of the co-occurrence is not always clear; whether these disorders resulted from the alcoholism, or whether the alcoholism was triggered by the disorders varies accordingly, but regardless, the alcoholic has a much better chance of recovery if both problems are treated together. (Medline Plus)

Drinking alcohol during pregnancy has been found to increase health risks to the fetus, especially after the first trimester. Any amount of alcohol may harm a developing baby, no ‘safe amount’ has yet been established; however the more alcohol consumed by an expectant mother, the higher the risks are of the baby developing Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, or FAS. FAS is a series of mental and physical defects that can develop in a fetus during pregnancy if the mother has been drinking. The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence states that approximately 5000 babies are born each year with severe FAS, and another 35000 are born with milder symptoms. If an alcoholic woman’s first child has FAS, the risk of her second child having FAS as well is a daunting 70%. The range of birth defects caused by FAS can be minor to major, and are nearly always long term.  The infant will be born underweight and with an alcohol dependency. A detox period will follow birth, sometimes lasting for up to several months. These babies tend to have brain and skull deformities, and can have very distinctive facial features, such as small eye openings, thin upper lips, and long, flat faces. (Dozois, and Firestone 249-262) (Davis, and Frost 100-101)

As the baby grows, learning problems that will keep the child from progressing normally may become apparent. FAS can cause...
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